I've been spending a lot of time with nurses lately. Intensive care is all about the care, and more so than any other unit I've observed closely, the nurse reigns supreme. My mother has had her own nurse most days, and each one has been terrific. I am awed by the skill and intellect they demonstrate in managing 3-6 pumps, hanging half a dozen medications in bags, deftly loading up food tubes and emptying what come out the other end, and being the hub of a wheel with spokes connecting to ten or more doctors, specialists, and other care providers. Unlike nurses on other floors, the critical care nurses have the responsibility of making minute-by-minute decisions about which meds to use and how much to dose based on a doctor's guidelines, and is an integral part of every team meeting for her patient, even outranking the more junior doctors.
Imagine my surprise, then, when my mother's amazing, highly skilled nurse, Tina, mentioned that she felt a migraine coming on, and was fending it off with Excedrin because she couldn't afford her migraine medication. I overheard this exchange between her and another staff and butted in. "Wait a minute. You work in an intensive care unit. You are a care provider. And you can't afford your health care?"
That's right. The copayment on her medication is id="mce_marker"00. She can't afford it. The hospital is busting the nurse's union, decreasing their benefits, increasing their patient loads (beyond the point of safety). It is more economical for her to use cheaper over-the-counter meds as a frontline measure, and the emergency room when that fails than it is to manage her migraines with the latest technology that her physician prescribed her and wants her to use. I'm gobsmacked and vastly disappointed.
Right now, the government is trying to cut Medicare. If successful, that will mean job losses in the health care industry. This is supposed to be okay because it will increase jobs elsewhere in the economy. I can't see the point of robbing Peter to pay Paul, myself. More importantly, it will cost jobs like Tina's, further increasing the pressure on already overworked nurses, and increasingly slashing the benefits they depend on to support their lifestyles as people passionately devoted to health care.
Most of us will end our lives in hospitals, and increasingly with technological advances, the lifesaving devices and procedures we'll depend on will require skilled nurses like Tina to manage. But Tina's not going to be there for us. Because Tina has a migraine that could be managed for the cost of a cup of coffee a day.
Freelance journalist Catherine Shaffer blogs about life, pets, writing, food, and more at soshiny.net
More from health